The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) recently released a decision about sexual harassment in the workplace that granted a significant award to the plaintiff. This precedent shows that adjudicators are issuing high awards in cases involving ongoing sexual assault and harassment.
Ms. McWilliam was employed as a police officer by the Toronto Police Services Board. In her employment, she experienced ongoing and debilitating harassment from colleagues and supervisors at 23 Division. Her complaint included specific incidents of harassment in the workplace and an allegation of sexual assault by a supervisor.
The behaviour Ms. McWilliam was subjected to included sexual comments and innuendo, the viewing and discussion of photos of her in the workplace, and a sexual assault in the form of a forced kiss.
The HRTO acknowledged that while many of the incidents might not be considered egregious when viewed in isolation, “even joking sexualized comments and actions can have a serious impact on individuals over the course of time.”
The HRTO emphasized that sexualized jokes can have a significant impact on women, especially in male-dominated workplaces. Such a pattern of similar incidents can form a poisoned work environment for female employees regardless of the original intent of the behaviour.
Due to the harassment that Ms. McWilliam endured, she was awarded $85,000 in damages and several public interest remedies were granted to improve the conditions of the workplace.
Lessons to be Learned
1. Adjudicators are recognizing higher value awards for sexual harassment and poisoned work environments. Where the average damages awards used to be $10,000-15,000, the HRTO will now make awards that reflect the seriousness and impact of persistent sexual harassment on employees.
2. As always, documentation is an important part of bringing a human rights claim – the more clear documentation the better. However, adjudicators are adapting to avoid stereotypical thinking and assumptions when dealing with sexual assault or sexual misconduct cases. This includes avoiding stereotypical thinking and assumptions about how a typical victim of trauma like a sexual assault will behave
3. An experienced employment lawyer can help you in assessing and beginning a human rights claim. Seeking legal advice is a sound investment in helping to guide you through the process.
If you have any questions about human rights, workplace sexual harassment claims, or employment rights general, you can contact Nicole Simes and MacLeod Law Firm at 647-204-8107 or at [email protected].